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Why Personal Training: To Achieve a Specific Goal

We are all special snowflakes.  It’s trite, but true, and no one style of working out, exercise program or training template is right for everyone.  That’s why personal training is the gold standard for physical fitness.  Nothing else will target your needs more specifically, address your desires more directly, or get you to your goal faster than a program designed and implemented specifically for you and your goals.  This post inaugurates a series of blogs about the various reasons why you might choose personal training over group fitness such as CrossFit or another of the options we provide.

Related: The Slipstream Approach To Training

The drawback to personal training is, of course, expense.  Having a dedicated fitness professional draft and supervise a training program especially for you requires one-on-one time and attention, which costs money.  As with everything else in life, the real question is value: is it worth it to you?  We can help you clarify your answers to the questions “what do I want to do and why do I want to do it?”  We then help you analyze your options and decide on the best path to your goal. 

We can help you clarify your answers to the questions “what do I want to do and why do I want to do it?”

The first reason to consider personal training is to achieve a specific goal.  We start the process with the Functional Movement Screen and tests of functional strength and endurance.  These tell us where you are now.  Your goal determines where you want to go. The more specific your desire, the more targeted your timeline, the more issues you need to address, the more you need a specific training plan.  Your timeline determines the rate of progress required, and with it the intensity needed.

Related: Basic Truths of Fitness

We then produce a program you can follow with as much or as little assistance as your personal needs and wants allow.  You will need instruction and supervision for things you’re new to, and check-ins and adjustments for things you’re used to.  Your program can be drafted from scratch, or we can save time and money by adjusting a template we’ve created or from another source.  We’ll be with you as much as you need and no more, managing costs and allowing you to own the process – and your achievements.  We are here to help, as much or as little as you need.  Contact me at john@crossfitslipstream.com to take your dream and start making it a reality!

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

Member Highlight – Meet Ryan!

Ryan joined CrossFit Slipstream this Spring to train for the St. Paul Fire Dept Physical Fitness Test.  He improved his time by over 4 minutes from the first time he took the test to the final time.  He got a slam-dunk on the test with a time of 2:42!  This is a perfect score to be considered for the St. Paul Fire Dept interview process.  He consistently attended CrossFit for 6 months to prepare for this goal.  We are so impressed with his dedication!

1. Why did you decide to try CrossFit?
It looked fun yet challenging. Something different that wasn’t just free weights.

2. How is having a CrossFit coach changed your workout or fitness results?
They keep me motivated & energized. Push me to not only meet my goals but want to see me exceed those goals.

3. How has doing CrossFit affected your health and/or life?
It made me actually want to workout. I feel less sluggish. It’s not only made me stronger, but I’ve also become more flexible.

4. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?
Wall Ball, because it helps the most with everyday activities. Whether that picking up or lifting something overhead.

5. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying CrossFit?
Why not? There’s nothing you should be intimidated by. You can’t have an opinion about it until you give it a try.

Basic Truths of Fitness

Success in the gym, as with most things in life, comes down to mastering the basics.  Much of the health and fitness industry in America is based on a convenient truth: everything works.  For six weeks.  Then it doesn’t.  But by then, they’ve got your money.  Then, it’s off to the next thing promising a way around these facts.  The sooner you accept and apply the truths below, the faster, better, and longer you’ll see genuine improvement in your health and fitness. 

Truth 1. It needs to be a habit.  Or: Consistency > Intensity.

The common pitch is to “get fit fast” (and you can do that with us and other fitness methods), but even when successful, fitness starts to fade within two weeks after you stop exercising.  Fitness is perishable.  Short-term goals can be great for getting you started and motivating you through the tough initial steps of forming a new habit.  But if there isn’t a long-term goal supporting you, it will be difficult to maintain a fitness habit after you either reach or fail to reach your short-term goal.

Most important is to stop acting like living a healthy life is a big deal. You can go to the gym three times a week. That can be “normal” for you. Not a sacrifice. Not an obligation. The more you treat fitness like a chore you have to do, the harder it will be.  When you learn to enjoy what you’re doing, it will be easy.  As Dr. Kelly Starrett says, “Don’t be heroic, be consistent.”

To get there, set a schedule, a long-term goal, and get a buddy to come with you.

Related: Why Technique Is the Foundation of a Training Philosophy

Truth 2.  You need to have a plan.

Living organisms adapt to imposed stress through a process called “supercompensation.”  That means that they not only repair damage done by the stressor, they build additional capacity in case the next stressor is even worse.  All physical training manipulates this response by stressing you just past your current capacity, allowing time and taking active steps to recover from that stress, giving your body time to supercompensate, and then stressing you a little more than last time.  This stress/recover cycle is both workout-to-workout and cycle-to-cycle (such as week-to-week). You can write your own plan or hire a trainer, or join a gym or group that provides one, just so long as you have one structuring your training.

Truth 3. You need to use functional movements.

The official CrossFit definition of “functional movement” is movements of the human body that “move large loads long distances, quickly.”  Notice that there isn’t anything in that definition which meets the more common understanding of “functional,” which is “practical, utilitarian, useful” and the like.  Fortunately, movements that are practical, utilitarian, and useful usually involve moving large loads over long distances quickly.  But it’s important to keep this in mind.  The Schwinn Air-Dyne and similar devices will apply a huge load to you very rapidly, but it doesn’t correspond to anything in you might do in the real world.

Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do in the gym that apply large loads and which do map to real world activities.  Squats.  Deadlifts.  Presses.  Pull-ups.  Sprints.

…the biggest and most dangerous mistake people make is going too hard too soon.

Truth 4.  Mechanics —> Consistency —> Intensity.

To get supercompensation, you need to push your limits.  However, the biggest and most dangerous mistake people make is going too hard too soon. Everyone wants to jump in and crush the workout (and themselves), because it seems like what everyone else is doing, or it’s macho, or they want to “win”.  Or they want to lose 30# yesterday because they’re going on spring break next week.  But you must first have the foundation in what we call “movement competency” – the ability to do the movements well, and do them well consistently.  Moving poorly is a sure road to injury.  Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will catch up with you eventually, and when it does, it violates principle #1.  

The first step is to identify any mobility issues that limit your ability to move as an exercise requires.  And then address them.  The Functional Movement Screen is a great way to do that, and we’re happy to help.  Or you can DIY with resources like MobilityWOD.com.  You can still workout during this phase, just respect your current limitations, and gradually push them out, rather than trying to force your way to fitness.

Related: Stop “Stretching”! Do Mobility Work Instead

Truth 5. Record your workouts.

What gets measured, gets managed. If you don’t know how many sets and reps you did with a particular weight two weeks ago, how can you guarantee that you’re actually getting stronger? If you don’t know how fast you ran a half mile last month, how can you use it to help you pace your quarter mile repeats today?

Tracking your progress is simple: get a small notebook and write down your workouts. We sell them, or you can use your own.  There are also plenty of apps available for smartphones.

So, how to apply these truths to break through the boom-and-bust cycle?

  1. Set a schedule. When and where, exactly, are you going to train?

  2. Get a notebook and pen to record your training.

  3. Identify your mobility issues and start working on them.

  4. Select and learn exercises that relate to real-world activities.  Increase difficulty by moving better and more often, rather than increasing load, until you are moving well enough to confidently move with additional difficulty.  Only add enough to create additional challenge, and never to the point your technique is in doubt.

  5. Contact me with your questions at john@crossfitslipstream.com. 

John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

Twin Cities Marathon

Ahh, the first weekend in October!  Temperature could be 70, could be 20.  But the Twin Cities Marathon will take place!  For many participants, the Marathon is the day to reap the rewards of all the hard work they’ve put in over months of preparation.  To survive events as long as the marathon takes time – lots of time on the roads & trails and in the gym or studio well in advance of race day.

And that means planning.  To cover 26.2 miles in less than the official time limit of 6:15 requires making a decision that it is something that you want to do far enough in advance to allow you to prepare.  There a heaps of training plans for every level of experience, intensity, and motivation.  But if you’re not already running at least half marathons, all of them will take months and it’s up to you to choose one and put yourself in a position to follow it.

Related: CrossFit?  But I’m a Bike Racer/Runner/Obstacle Course Racer/Triathlete/Etc.

The simple way is to join a group that’s training for your goal marathon.  For your hometown race, that will be easy.  What’s less easy is to manage your schedule to accommodate the group, stay motivated and actually get the correct training in when you don’t have the support of the group, or to know what to do when illness, injury, work, or life in general throws a wrench into the plan.  The same goes when your goal is not your hometown race.

This is where having a coach will benefit you.  A coach can look at your recent preparatory races and workouts, gauge where you are now, and adjust your plan to help you reach your goal given the time remaining.  Your coach can also help you recognize and accept the need to adjust your goal when needed or possible.  Note the adjustment could be a faster time than previously expected!  Having a good estimate of what’s possible for you helps you set realistic goals – and stretch goals – that will maximize both your performance and your satisfaction with the outcome, even when things don’t go quite to plan or you come up a little short of your goal.

Related: Is This You: “Running Sucks!”

So if you’re inspired by this year’s marathoners to give it a go next year, consider hiring a coach to draft a training plan specific to you, or to help you choose and implement an existing plan.  Slipstream exists to support you in exactly this way – what do you want to do?  Where are you now?  What will it take to get you where you want to go? Contact me at john@crossfitslipstream.com to learn more about how we can help you reach your goals.

–John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

Member Highlight – Meet Saron!

1. Why did you decide to try CrossFit?

I wanted to try CrossFit because I knew going to conventional gyms just didn’t work for me. I could never stay motivated to keep going and the variety that CrossFit offers was really appealing to me.

2. How is having a CrossFit coach changed your workout or fitness results?

Having a CrossFit coach has really helped me stay motivated and really focus on my form and progress. I know that if I do it right and I give my best, I will always keep getting better. And the coaches at Slipstream see it too and are so encouraging about it, it keeps me going.

3. How has doing CrossFit affected your health and/or life?

It’s shown me how much more physically capable I am than I thought. There was a time when doing burpees were difficult for me, now I can handle it. There was a time wall-balls weren’t necessarily my favorite, now I can handle them with more weight. It’s easy to tell yourself that maybe you’re not the type of person who works out or goes to the gym and you can go on believing it. But doing CrossFit has changed my mindset in that I am capable, as long as I keep trying. I think that’s a good mindset to have both in and outside of CrossFit.

4. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?

Deadlifts…they just make me feel like a badass

5. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying CrossFit?

Just do it! It may seem intimidating but, you’re more capable than you think.

Drive, and How to Maximize It

Our ancestors had no need for “physical fitness” as we think of it.  If you weren’t fast or couldn’t throw hard, you didn’t catch dinner and went hungry.  If you couldn’t lift heavy things, you settled for flimsy shelters that collapsed and left you crushed or exposed.  “Physical fitness” came from just living life, and was not an end in itself.  Life challenged, and we responded.

A big part of the success of CrossFit is that its approach not only creates tremendous physical fitness, but does it in a way that facilitates reaching a flow state. 

In the modern world, we have removed nearly all the physical effort required by life.  While this has many advantages (12 hour shift in a steel mill, anyone?) the human body-mind unit remains a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.  Any ability that isn’t required by daily life is quickly dismantled to save energy for a rainy day – muscles atrophy, blood vessels are torn down, body fat goes up.  Fortunately, our ancestry has also instilled us with what psychologists call “intrinsic motivation” that we can tap into to become and remain motivated to do the hard, sometimes unpleasant work required to develop and maintain physical fitness.

Related: Positive Self Talk: What is it Good for Anyway?

An excellent introduction to intrinsic motivation is Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive,  which relies heavily on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “Flow.”  Flow occurs when a task stretches our current level of ability without being out of reach.  Tasks that provide the opportunity for autonomy, mastery, and purpose help us reach a state of ‘flow,’ that pleasurable sensation of being absorbed in a task, a lack of self-consciousness, and losing track of time.  Flow states are so pleasurable that they are inherently motivating.

A big part of the success of CrossFit is that its approach not only creates tremendous physical fitness, but does it in a way that facilitates reaching a flow state.  The movements are often complex and always require focused attention to what you doing, even if it’s just counting reps.  While time often seems to drag during a hard workout, we normally notice when it’s over that time at least felt differently from normal, even if we didn’t quite lose track of it.  The challenge of improving your time on a repeated workout, mastering a complex movement like the clean, or aligning with your breath to push through a hard run are the type of tasks that provide opportunity for autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  They are, therefore, inherently motivating.

Kind of.  There is of course a threshold matter of finding physical tasks and improvement worthwhile and finding an environment that is supportive and focused on helping you tap into your intrinsic motivation.   To do so, start with setting your own goals that are intrinsically appealing, rather than adopting someone else’s goals or what you think you “should” want.  Your goal may be to be fit enough to do the “optional” guided walking tours on your upcoming vacation, rather than crush a new personal record for a 5k run.  And that’s fine.  What’s important is that it has meaning and appeal to you.  It should also allow for continuation after reaching your initial goal (more on that below).

Next, find a method to make preparing for that goal fun.  There are at least 3.5 kinds of fun (external link).  Doing activities you enjoy are key to making fitness a habit, which in turn is key to making real progress.  This may mean learning new skills, which can be less than fun at first, as frustration can mount.  Identifying what has potential and sticking with it long enough to get through the hard part of the learning curve is key, as is recognizing what does not have appeal and dropping it once you have given it a fair chance.  This is mastery – the process of becoming proficient, then gaining comprehensive ability in that skill.  Continually challenging your current abilities, then recovering from the effort, is how we improve fitness, gain skill, and attain mastery.

Related: Creating Lasting Change In Your Life

Finally, establish a reward system that operates after-the-fact.  While this may seem to contradict my advice to find a motivating goal, bear with me.  Pink describes these as “now/then” rewards, as opposed to the more common “if/then” rewards.  “Now” that you have learned the mechanics of the clean, you can move to adding weight, or treat yourself to a pair of olympic lifting shoes.  These goals work better for fitness than “if/then” because all too often people achieve the “if”, get the reward, and stop pursuing the endeavor (sound familiar?).  For example, “if I lose 20# by the wedding I can eat all the cake.”  Then not only do you eat all the cake, you stop working out altogether, because your goal has been achieved.

Finding an activity that you enjoy doing and that enhances your fitness in the process is key to a lifetime of physical fitness, enjoyment, and progress.  Becoming intrinsically rewarded by doing what is “good for you” is the fitness equivalent of learning to love vegetables.  When “working out” feels more like “playing out,” you will no longer struggle with motivation, and results will flow like water.  You may also find that your pursuit of mastery of this physical activity spurs you to improved habits in other areas of your life, as you realize that if you want your clean record to improve, you need to eat and sleep better.  Now you are pursuing it for the love of the activity, and fitness is a happy side benefit.

To learn more, or for help finding an intrinsically motivating activity, contact me at john@crossfitslipstream.com.

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

What Happens When You Train 2: Conditioning Exercises

Our final installment in our short blog series on what happens when you train discusses what happens during and after a workout that focuses on conditioning. First, know that the ‘split’ between resistance and conditioning work is artificial.  It helps us understand what’s going on, but there is no such thing as resistance training without a conditioning element, or conditioning workouts without a resistance element.

Related: What Happens When You Train 1: Resistance Exercises

As in resistance work, conditioning work causes changes to your neurological, endocrine, immune, and metabolic systems.  Instead of repeating that information, however, here I’ll discuss what happens to improve your ability to deliver energy to sustain work.

The body really “burns” only one fuel: ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  But we have four ways we can produce ATP.  These are: aerobic lipolysis, aerobic glycolysis, anaerobic glycolysis, and the phosphagenic system.  We’ve covered these in other blogs, so please look at those if this is new to you.  Here, we’re talking about what changes in these systems in response to a workout.

The adaptations you build depend on the stress your workout applied. 

As you finish a workout, you do your cool-down (right?!) to lower your core temperature, return your heart rate to normal, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).  This tells your subconscious (often referred to as your “body”) that the stressful event that was your workout is now over and it can devote resources to repairing the damage and “supercompensate” to improve your abilities, so you’re more capable of handling that kind of stress again.

The adaptations you build depend on the stress your workout applied.  This is known as the principle of specificity – you adapt to the specific demand placed on you.  Note: CrossFit’s “constantly varied” aspect means exposing you to lots of different demands, to build the broadest possible fitness, as opposed to, say, a runner who wants to run a specific distance as fast as possible.  With four major sources of ATP, we need to discuss these separately.

For extremely short, intense bursts of activity, the phosphagenic energy system (also known as the ATP/CP system) predominates.  It adapts to these stresses by increasing the number of mitochondria you have, which increases amount of ATP and creatine phosphate you can store and burn at any at time.  You also build more of the enzymes that help these reactions occur, ATPase and creatine kinase.  More energy available faster = stronger and faster muscle contractions = improved performance.

Related: Intensity: the Key to Improving Your Physical Fitness

For workouts that really make your lungs and muscles burn, your body responds by improving your glycolytic capabilities – the ability to turn sugar into ATP rapidly without using oxygen in the reaction.  Protein and fat cannot be metabolized without oxygen.  Only carbohydrate can supply energy this way.  This is one reason the system has only limited capacity.  One response is to increase the ability to store carbohydrate, either as glycogen in your muscles or glucose in the blood and liver.  Other responses include increasing the store of enzymes needed to process sugar, the number of mitochondria available for these reactions, the amount of the enzymes and other chemicals needed for the Krebs cycle, which converts the waste product pyruvate into ATP.

For longer workouts, or those with significant rest breaks between efforts (interval work), you respond by improving your ability to turn sugar into ATP with oxygen.  This has similar effects to those discussed immediately above and some additional results.  These include increased mitochondria, improved efficiency of Type I (“slow twitch”) muscle fibers, and faster processing of both lactate to prevent its accumulation and hydrogen ions to prevent that burning sensation associated with fatigue.

If you do our Burn45 class, or take an easy run, bike, or swim, you’ll improve your ability to utilize fat as fuel.  This is because while fat is an extremely rich source of fuel (potentially over 300 ATP’s per fat molecule, depending on its size), the reactions required to convert it to ATP are relatively slow, and can’t provide energy fast enough to power intense work.  Hence the name “Burn45”, and the need to keep the intensity down during it.  After such a workout, your body responds by increasing its ability to perform the series of reactions called “beta oxidation” which prepares a fat molecule to enter the Krebs cycle and “electron transport chain,” both of which result in ATP.

Related: The Importance of Recovery

As with resistance exercise, these responses are subconscious, but they are what we seek when we train.  Our programming is designed to maximize positive responses across these energy systems.  It is important to ensure you (1) work hard frequently in the gym and then (2) allow these systems time and energy to do their work, so you can reap the benefit of your hard work.

Please contact me if you have any questions about how our programming can maximize your fitness gains from your time and effort!

John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer


What Happens When You Train 1: Resistance Exercise

Understanding what happens inside us during and after exercise and the benefits we derive from it can help us get motivated to become and remain active. We begin a short blog series on what happens when you train by discussing what happens during and after a workout that focuses on resistance exercise (weight training).

The short answer is: damage and (if you’re doing it right) repair. How this actually happens involves changes to your neurological, endocrine, immune, and metabolic systems.

Related: Why Personal Training?

First, a resistance training session stresses your neurological system by requiring it to fire your muscles in the right ratios at the right times to perform the movement. We call it coordination. By repeating a particular movement well, your nervous system gets better at recruiting more muscle fibers in the right sequences. This nervous adaptation is why you make quick gains when you first start training, return to training, or learn a new movement. The nervous system is also closely involved in the hormonal, immune, and metabolic responses, though these can be described as the nervous system’s subconscious “day job,” as opposed to the conscious attempt to move well (“squeeze the glutes!”).

“Our programming is designed to maximize positive responses across these systems.”

The endocrine system helps respond to external stimuli and return us to homeostasis. That’s a fancy way to say freeze-fight-flight-relax. Essentially, the hormones produced by the endocrine system serve as chemical messengers, directing the body to build (anabolic), tear down (catabolic), or maintain tissues. For resistance training, hormones help tear down damaged tissue (catabolic) and activate the rebuilding (anabolic) process. Generally, the more muscle fibers recruited for an exercise, the greater the endocrine response. Short rest periods, moderate to high volume, and heavier weights also increase endocrine response, maximizing your potential benefit from the work you’ve done.

For example…

The immune system isn’t the first thing you think of as responding to exercise, but it does play an important role, changing the potential interactions of other systems, and maintaining health, so resources can be devoted to responding to the training session. This latter is its most important role, and it is a major reason why rest after a workout is critical.

The metabolic response to resistance training is vital to producing results. This leads to lots of advertising promoting products to support metabolic activation (pre-workout) and protein synthesis (protein powders). Metabolism is the total of all catabolic or anabolic reactions within an organism. To respond positively to a resistance training session, you have to have energy to power the response across all of the systems discussed above. Being properly fueled allows your body to use protein for building, rather than fuel. Likewise, having a good aerobic foundation and ability to burn fat for fuel allows you to produce energy most efficiently, leaving more resources for repairing the damage from your session and building new muscle, creating better neurological connections, and other adaptations we want from your session.

Related: The Slipstream Approach to Training

These responses to exercises are subconscious, but they are what we seek to create when we exercise. Our programming is designed to maximize positive responses across these systems. It is important to ensure you (1) work hard frequently in the gym and then (2) allow these systems time and energy to do their work.

Please contact me at john@crossfitslipstream.com if you have any questions about how our programming can maximize your improvement from your time and effort.

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer


1. Why did you decide to try CrossFit?
My best friend has been a CrossFit Coach since we were in high school. She was the one who initially introduced me to CF. I went to some of her competitions and visited her gym but never felt like I would be able to do the movement (especially watching her compete). I came across CrossFit Slipstream by searching for an internship. I decided I would give CrossFit an honest try this time and it has been a great experience!
2. How is having a CrossFit coach changed your workout or fitness results?
 In the past, I have just created a routine myself and spent hours at the gym every day trying to get the results I wanted. It would take me months to see results and then my motivation would run out. And so the cycle continued. After I joined CFS; discipline and awareness of a movement have been the biggest changes I have seen in my workout. I had no idea I was performing movements wrong and how it was affecting my body. Having a coach that teaches and points out how to improve a movement for it to be effective.  Now even if I do a workout by myself, I understand the basics of how my body is supposed to move and how to get the most out of my workout.
3. How has doing CrossFit affected your health and/or life?
After any workout, my mood is great! I have energy and motivation to get moving. I have the motivation to take my dog on 3-5 mile hikes. I am more interested in how my lifestyle and nutrition plays a part in my fitness.
4. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?
My favorite movement is kettlebell swings.
5. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying CrossFit?
Give it a try! I was skeptical and always thought I was getting the most out of my workout before CrossFit. Coaches will help you find a version of the workout you can perform well and still get a great workout. You have to come to class with an open mind and a will to better your health and fitness.
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